Bridge Academy rethinks the idea of the school as a piece of urban design integrated into the city fabric. The design creates a unique vertical school in this dense urban brownfield site, formerly a gasworks, in the heart of its multi-ethnic community. Responding to the opportunities of this constrained water-side site, the innovative vertical Academy creates a compact school shaped around a multi-level ‘heartspace', maximising social interaction and optimising passive surveillance. The design displaces ground upwards taking advantage of magnificent roofspaces for performance, learning and play.
Three building elements form the basis of the design: the 'sound shell', a performance hall and a sports hall. The sound shell wraps teaching spaces around the social heart of the school and terraces down to the canal, creating a sense of enclosure and protection, with the 'hoop' supporting the large ETFE wall unifying the academy spaces and bringing vast amounts of daylight right down into the lower ground floor. The north and south halves of the shell are arranged on half levels so that adjacent teaching spaces are reached by 10 steps in the staircase, providing stronger links across the different academic departments. A play deck and learning resource centre are suspended from the sound shell and are located above the central square, which opens out onto a café with views to the canal.
The 450-seat concert hall for use by the wider community outside of school hours was another opportunity for unique design. It is designed as a pavilion surrounded by nature, set among a hanging garden.
The sports hall has been sunk into the ground to reduce its height and with glazing at street level. Separate access is provided for off-hours use of the sports hall and a fitness room for local clubs. Terraces at each level of the building allow for a continuous stepped landscape from the top of the sports hall down to the canal.
A curved truss beam suspends the library above the central square, freeing up the ground floor for assembly and social interaction. The steel structure is intended to be visible so that, in keeping with the specialism of maths and music, the school becomes not just an environment to learn in, but an environment to learn from.
Construction was from February 2007 until June 2008. The school is 10,250 m2 and it accomodates 1150 pupils. Bridge Academy won the Scala Award for Civic Building of the Year in 2009.